Shores is the debut album from Scottish composer, Fergus Hall. The album is a suite of four songs
with words by Gaelic poet, Sorley MacLean (1911-1996) from the collection, Dàin do Eimhir. The album explores themes of love and longing as well as the landscape, coastline, and history of the Isle of Skye.
Shores brings together elements of contemporary jazz, traditional music, and contemporary classical
music into one large musical work, taking influence from musicians and composers who also blur these lines such as Martyn Bennet, The Gloaming, Laura Jurd, Linda Buckley, and William Sweeney.
The album features an impressive line-up of young Scottish jazz talent with Fergus McCreadie on piano (Peter Whittingham Award 2016, BBC Young Jazz Musician Finalist 2018, Album of the Year Parliamentary Jazz Awards 2019, Best Album Scottish Jazz Awards 2019), Matt Carmichael on tenor saxophone (Peter Whittingham Development Award 2019, BBC Young Jazz Musician Finalist 2020), Mark Hendry on upright bass, and Dominykas Snarskis on drums. The album also features BBC Scotland Young Traditional Musician of the Year Finalist, Cameron Nixon as vocal soloist, along with a large string section.
Shores is unlike any other album I have reviewed for SimplyJazzTalk. It is an album that should be considered in the way that one might approach a classical music album. There are four distinct movements connected with two interludes. The traditional music of Scotland influence is carried by the wonderful vocals of Cameron Nixon who delivers the words of poet Sorley MacLean with a real feel for the sentiment and emotion that can be found in the writer’s work.
The contemporary jazz element of Shores is handled by Matt Carmichael on sax and Fergus McCreadie at the piano. Both these musicians have recently released critically acclaimed albums under their own names and the quality of the playing on those albums can be heard here on Shores. The contemporary jazz styling employed is very much in the north European style of jazz composition and emphasises the feel of the poetry introduced through the voice of Cameron Nixon.
The large string section brings the contemporary classical composition to life and does so without losing any of the emotion set up by the other two musical elements. Without doubt Fergus Hall has written a beautiful suite of music that blends three musical styles that sit so naturally together. I should also like to highlight the two interludes that act as bridges between the suite’s movements. Interlude 1 is played by drummer Dominykas Snarskis and is a terrific example of a drummer playing from within the music rather than laying a percussive sound over the top – a style Dominykas uses throughout the album. The second interlude is played by pianist Fergus McCreadie with beautiful touch and timing. As the sound builds in tempo and volume a more percussive style of playing is used, which Fergus delivers without overplaying and, thereby, maintains the created images without distortion.
Shores is an album that should be approached with an open mind and heard in its entirety (more than once) to really appreciate just what Fergus Hall has achieved with his writing. The composer set out to blend three musical styles and produce something that reflects the themes of a Gaelic poet whose writings are dominated by the Scottish landscape and those that live in it: Fergus Hall has successfully pulled this off with some of the most intelligently written, cohesive, evocative, and emotional music played by musicians who clearly understand what Fergus has written.
Shores is available as a digital download from Bandcamp.
Music by Fergus Hall Words by Sorley MacLean
Vocals – Cameron Nixon; Sax – Matt Carmichael; Piano – Fergus McCreadie; Upright Bass – Mark Hendry; Drums – Dominykas Snarskis
Violin – Fay Guiffo, Sarah Wagner, Helena Rose, Aimée Laws; Viola – Rufus Isabel Elliot, Zakia Fawcett Cello – Keena Wildman, Sarah McWhinney; Double Bass – Mathew McAteer